Yellow Fever

They got it bad, and that aint good

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I was the 10-year-old girl swooning and singing along with Rivers Cuomo over the three-chord riffs of Weezer's "El Scorcho," that song about half-Japanese girls that do it to him every time. Oblivious to its implications, I was pleased that the man in the Buddy Holly glasses had a penchant for Asian girls because, you know, that way I actually had a chance. It was better than being invisible. After all, how many times did I come across references to Asians on television or radio? Let's see, there was professional tennis player Michael Chang, who provoked squeals of delighted pride from my parents, the unsportiest people you'll ever meet, whenever his matches were on television. And there was Margaret Cho and her hopelessly unfunny, short-lived ABC comedy series, American Girl. And that just about wraps it up.

I was a year into college, still listening to Cuomo as he referenced Madama Butterfly, when a friend pointed out that Cuomo was merely exoticizing and objectifying Asian women, the social phenomenon that is Asiaphilia.

Whatcha drinking? Photo by Jennie Warren. Makeup by Bill Child
Whatcha drinking? Photo by Jennie Warren. Makeup by Bill Child

And just like that, my favorite Weezer album, Pinkerton, suggested a disturbing question: Was Cuomo, the god of cutesy, simple-but-not rock—the guy I'd been so thrilled at merely standing near at the Roxy a few years before—was he actually a quasi-racist, ignorant Asiaphile?

And even if he was, would he ever call?

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Asian fetishism has a long history of being brushed off as a compliment, rather than offensive or bigoted. I've been told I ought to be flattered that so many non-Asian men "prefer" Asians and Asian American women. But the coalescing of an ethnicity into a whole, whether exotic, erotic, oversexed or virginal, is a real issue, collectively and individually. (I guess when it comes to stereotypes, Asian women have it better than Asian men do. There are two main themes when it comes to Asian male stereotypes: virginal and emasculated. Not to mention that super-fun myth that goes something like this: small stature equals small penis equals small chance of pleasure.)

Asiaphilia brings with it a set of more intimate considerations. I get to wonder if the man chatting me up is genuinely interested in me or interested in the idea of what he supposes me to be: demure and submissive, the forever-faithful geisha girl/bedroom toy.

The overwhelming ratio of males with Asiaphilic attraction to females suggests that this fetishization isn't based on looks alone. Asiaphiles are looking for authority in their romantic relationships, premeditated or not.

This issue moved out of the theoretical and into the personal when I dated a white boy I met in college.

"Do you like boba," he asked me.

"I don't."

"Ever visited the Japanese Garden at Huntington Library?"

"I have, but I prefer the Shakespeare Garden."

"Ever read The Art of War?"

I was devastated. Couldn't he see I was into the same things he was—Dostoevsky, early '90s shoegazer music and Indian food?

It hurt. When someone homogenizes an entire race of people—even if that homogenization tends toward desirable—that someone is creating a wall between himself and the person in question. No one likes to be treated as an outsider, especially in the only country she's ever known as home.

Things got worse when I heard the story of my friend Lydia, whose boyfriend's Asiaphilic tendencies didn't reveal themselves for months. By the end of the relationship, the guy had become an East Asian Studies/Chinese language double major, and never missed a chance to converse with her family in their native Mandarin. When she wasn't around, he'd call her father to go out for Chinese food.

He's gone, but his impact on Lydia remains.

"It always crosses my mind," she says, "that I'm replaceable."

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As all good Asian-American Studies minors know, the roots of Asiaphilia are planted in the soil of colonialism. Our European forefathers, viewing any foreign culture as backward, erased what they could of indigenous custom and inscribed upon the people their own authority. Thus did bloom the stereotype of Asian docility, submissiveness and lotus blossom beauty.

It's arguable that Asiaphilia, ironically, stems from legal attempts to exclude Asian Americans from the United States. The criteria by which many Asian women were permitted to enter the U.S. were not exactly morally sound: prostitutes, picture brides, war brides, mail-order brides. Sexuality was a prerequisite for refuge in the United States.

On the other hand, Asiaphilia flourishes in California, where Asians make up 12 percent of the population. If you doubt me, go to the clubs to see it—whether an average dance club or the booking clubs traditionally haunted by Asian men and women looking for significant others.

At booking clubs, women—normal, everyday girls, notpaid professionals—gather in the center of the room while men in surrounding booths literally take their pick. Waiters drag girls from the dance floor to their tables. They even drag them from the restroom. But the women are there of their own accord, just as desperate as the guys "booking" them. The thinking goes that if the men can afford the tables they've purchased for the night—from $200 to $500—they're likely a prosperous match.

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